Hawaii showed Bruno Mars how much he means to the state by snapping up pretty much every ticket to his three Aloha Stadium shows on the first sale dates. On Thursday night, Mars spent the entire 100 minutes of his first of those concerts showing how much Hawaii means to him.
From little touches such as breaking into rusty pidgin and assigning each of his band members a Hawaii “hometown” to grander gestures like an opening slideshow set to the John Cruz classic “Island Style” and customizing his crew’s matching jerseys (emblazoned with “Hawaii” across the front and the old-school University of Hawaii Rainbow logo on the sleeves), Mars took every opportunity to make this concert special, to show Hawaii people that they are his people.
Expectations were high for Mars’ first shows in Hawaii in more than four years. Those three sellouts were at the much smaller Blaisdell Arena. Since then, we’ve seen Mars raise his profile by dominating the Grammys and charting one of the biggest hit singles of all time — “Uptown Funk” with Mark Ronson. This promised to be the biggest musical event in Hawaii in … well, maybe ever. Self-proclaimed King of Pop Michael Jackson sold out two shows at the Stadium in 1997 and rock legends the Rolling Stones came close in two shows a year later, but no one had ever done three Stadium shows, with about 110,000 seats sold.
If you have tickets to Saturday’s or Sunday’s show, you’ll be happy to know that is money well invested, as Mars blew past those great expectations with a concert that combined high energy with high emotion. The only thing missing was a roof for him to blow off the place.
Mars brought intensity from the moment he hit the stage, opening with a 1-2 punch from his latest album, “24K Magic,” following “Finesse” with the title tune, and masterfully sprinkled up-tempo smashes such as “Locked Out of Heaven” and “Uptown Funk” throughout the show.
But he also defied the vastness of the venue by managing to connect with his audience, turning smaller moments such as when he gave the band a break and held the stage accompanied only by pianist John Fossitt into showstoppers. Mars started that segment by singing the chorus of his hit B.o.B. collaboration “Nothin’ On You” and an excerpt from “It Will Rain” before a complete version of “When I Was Your Man” on which his vocals powered throughout the Stadium and beyond.
Perhaps just as impressive was how Mars the peerless showman found thrilling moments even in some of his lesser-known songs. “Calling All My Lovelies,” for example, started slow, sending some fans in search of refreshments or paying a visit to the restroom, but those who strayed missed out on some nice guitar work from Mars, including a dazzling solo, and one of the night’s breaks for comic relief, as Mars poked some fun at his “player” image with an interlude in which he stumbles repeatedly while leaving a message for the woman he’s trying to woo.
But as important as it was that Mars and his band the Hooligans — who were as tight as ever — step off the gas once in a while for everyone to catch their breath, when it comes down to it, what set this show apart was its scale and energy. The vast majority of the audience watched Mars on huge screens on either side of the stage, as well as one behind the band, but the use of those screens, the pyrotechnics, the smoke and confetti and, yes, the performances made this show an event.
Former Gap Band singer “Uncle” Charlie Wilson opened the show with a one-hour set that mixed his group’s hits — including “Burn Rubber On Me” and “Early in the Morning” — with well-done covers — Prince’s “Baby I’m a Star” and Roger’s “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
Wilson, who is not scheduled to perform at the last two Hawaii shows, brought great energy and managed to win over a crowd eager to see the hometown boy take the stage. That’s no easy feat and evidence of the skills Wilson has developed in 40-plus years in the business.
His inclusion is significant for Mars, both a nod to one of the OGs of old school R&B, a genre Mars pays homage to on the “24K Magic” album, and an affirmation from one of his musical forefathers that he has brought the music into the 21st century respectfully.
The Green and Common Kings replace Wilson on the bill for Saturday’s and Sunday’s shows, and let’s hope those are not the only changes.
While much went better than expected on this night, thanks to planning by the Stadium staff, there were glitches that hopefully will be ironed out before Saturday.
While entering the parking lot went smoothly, entering the venue did not. Gates 1 and 2 had lines snaking across the front of the property, while gates around the way moved much more quickly. It would have been helpful to have staff direct those in the longer lines toward the shorter ones. Many, if not most, of the attendees have not attended a concert at the stadium in the past 20 years, if at all. Exiting was also slow initially, bringing gridlock, though it did loosen up eventually. It still wound up taking 40 minutes to make it to the street.
Lines inside were also lengthy, with the merchandise queue requiring 45 minutes of patience despite the hustle the workers showed. Part of it was that the stands lacked order and part that the set-up did not allow customers to see all the merchandise before reaching the front of the line.
There was also talk on social media of problems buying food and entering the field area. One tip for those with seats on the field: Enter through the designated field entrance rather than trying to walk down through the orange sections.
None of those issues were enough to put a damper on the homecoming of Hawaii’s own Prince of Pop, but some improvements would go a long way toward making these last two nights easier for everyone.
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